Elgin moving toward keeping police in local schools
Tensions around having Elgin police officers in local schools appear to have decreased, at least among city council members.
The council, in a preliminary move, voted 8-0 to renew the agreement with Elgin Area Unit District 46 this week. Once final, the deal will continue the current practice of having a police presence at Abbott, Ellis, Kimball and Larsen middle schools as well as Elgin, Larkin and Gifford Street high schools.
The agreement costs the city $1.29 million in annual wages and benefits for the officers. The school district reimburses the city for $545,662 of that cost. The agreement came under fire in recent years as school officers admitted a disproportionate amount of police interventions, including the arrest and ticketing of students, have been directed at Black and other nonwhite students over the years. A couple of years ago, Elgin police took action to address that issue. School resource officers now all wear body cameras, refrain from becoming involved in noncriminal school discipline and receive annual training in nonviolence crisis intervention, handling students with special education needs, and the negative impacts of getting sucked into the justice system at a young age.
Several members of Elgin's citizens' task force on community policing, including Kevin Zaldivar, have continued to express concerns about a school-to-prison pipeline made worse by police presence in schools.
Zaldivar did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday, but he's been an advocate for enhanced social services and youth mentoring instead of police officers.
Elgin has also attempted to address that idea by creating a Youth Empowerment Program over the last year. That program focuses on avoiding official police and legal action against students by pushing them toward community and faith-based organizations for mentoring and restitution. That said, school resource officers still issued 75 citations to students at Elgin schools in the last school year.
Police Chief Ana Lalley said 21 of those incidents involved disorderly conduct. Fifteen citations were for battery. And a total of 33 citations involved student possession or use of cannabis, drug paraphernalia or synthetic drugs.
Students who receive a court date must show up with a parent. Lalley told city council members even that process emphasizes pushing the students into social services and equipping parents with tools and services to help them.
"What is giving that citation to a student actually accomplishing," Lalley said about the new approach. "There may be other things going on. This gives us an opportunity to look at the whole picture, being able to provide assistance if it's needed, like counseling, guidance and mentoring opportunities."
Council members praised the changes but requested a racial breakdown of the citations still being issued to monitor any ongoing disparities. The city council will take a final vote on renewing the school resource officers in two weeks.